“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” – Matthew 7:15-20
Robert Jeffress is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, TX. This also happens to be Rick Perry’s church. As so often happens in politics, pastors will say things that don’t quite mesh well with a candidate’s campaign strategy, resulting in some headaches for the candidate. (Not that the candidate disagrees with the statements – he may, or may not – but they may not be things he would have chosen to say.)
This time the issue is Mormonism. Robert Jeffress came out and said that Mormonism is a cult, and that Mitt Romney (currently “leading” the race for the Republican nomination) is not a Christian. Naturally some are incensed. (I even heard someone say that Jeffress has become the Jeremiah Wright of the Right.) In fairness to Jeffress, he didn’t go out to pick this fight. The fight was picked by a reporter and he responded with honesty and candor.
Jeffress went on to say that he does feel that it’s better to elect a Christian as president, but that he would NOT vote for Obama over Romney. This pulled another clarifying question from a different reporter that Jeffress positions seem contradictory, as Obama is a professing Christian.
Of course this makes for some interesting political theater, and makes a nice discussion point for who is or isn’t a Christian … and when it matters.
Is Mitt Romney a Christian? Is Barack Obama a Christian? Is Rick Perry a Christian? I suppose the answer depends on who you ask.
If you ask Mitt Romney, will he tell you he’s a Christian? Yes. If you ask Barack Obama, will he tell you he’s a Christian? Yes. If you ask Rick Perry, will he tell you he’s a Christian? Yes. OK, so far, there is no distinction. Ask any of these guys if they follow Christ and they’ll say yes.
If you ask me, would I tell you Mitt Romney is a Christian? No – he’s a Mormon. Mormonism is directly contrary to the Biblical understanding of the deity of Jesus Christ. Agree or disagree on the theology, but Mormonism runs directly counter to the Bible. Are they Christians? As the Bible refers to Christians as followers of Christ (the Christ of the Bible), then no they are not, by the Biblical definition.
If you ask me, would I tell you Barack Obama is a Christian? No – he’s a secular humanist. This one’s actually a bit tougher. While Mitt Romney clearly holds to theology that is heretical, I would make my decision on Obama regarding his fruit – see the lead scripture. Does a Christian support abortion on demand for the masses? Do I need to go further?
If you ask me, would I tell you that Rick Perry is a Christian? I don’t know. He claims to be, and I don’t see any clear evidence to the contrary. I disagree with a fair bit of his governing philosophy, to be sure – but having a disagreement with me doesn’t make one a non-Christian.
If you ask me, does it matter what I think about whether any of these candidates are Christians? Well, it might matter to me, but it probably doesn’t and shouldn’t matter to them or you – make your own decisions. Make your own decision about whether it even matters to you if a candidate is a follower of Christ. It matters to Robert Jeffress, it matters quite a bit less to me.
So who is a Christian? Let’s try a little experiment.
Evangelicals often refer to something called “the Sinner’s Prayer” in conversion. You can google it and find all sorts of examples. Now, Christians of different sorts will debate the meaning of the prayer, a debate that I will not wade into. I will simply note that ours is not a religion of formalism where you have to say the right incantation at the right time to receive a blessing from God.
OK, the sinner’s prayer, here’s an example. (Feel free to recite it, then I have questions for you.):
“Heavenly Father, I know that I am a sinner and that I deserve to go to hell. I believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins. I do now receive him as my Lord and personal Savior. I promise to serve you to the best of my ability. Please save me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
OK, did you say it? If you did, are you a Christian? How would I know? How would you know? More-to-the-point, how would Jesus know?
In 1 Samuel 16:7 we have this wonderful, quotable bit: “man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” So, did the sinner’s prayer make you a Christian? Well, that depends – did you mean it?
While we’re at it, what if you changed the words around but just expressed form an open an honest heart your repentance for past wrongs and hope in Jesus Christ for salvation? Did the formalism of the words make a difference, or was it the condition of your heart?
Consider the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. Jesus makes it clear that it is not religion or religiosity that fixed the problem, but the honest expression of a desire for mercy from the sinner. And, friend, only God knows the condition of your heart when you call out to Him.
“But what about the fruit in the Matthew 7 quote?” Fruit is a farming allegory, not a shopping allegory. Fruit doesn’t pop out the second you plant it and we don’t just go down to the store to grab some. It grows over time (and moves through different seasons), and then all-of-a-sudden, there it is.
So, is Mitt Romney, or Barack Obama, or Rick Perry a Christian? Only God knows everything for sure (I mean, that’s what it means to be God, right?). We have His word (the Bible) and we can trust it, so we can likely get it right on quite a few of these questions.
But do Rick Perry, or Mitt Romney, or Barack Obama actually care if you or I think they are Christians? I suspect that they do, but only so they can get votes, and nothing more.
For the rest of us, there is no real need to go out and make a case to everyone else that we are Christians. Just living for Christ will surely make that apparent to anyone who cares to know, in due time. And on the question of Christ, HE is what matters, not us. Consider the Lord’s description of the coming of the Holy Spirit in John 16:13-14: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”